A Peaceful Day at Pine Creek

Explore a remote location of the eastern Superstition Wilderness

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….continued from the chapter “Two Meetings.”

The spring gales persisted through my late afternoon arrival in Pine Creek, into the night and next morning. Protected from the west wind by the rising land, the tent was not buffeted like I described in the chapter “A Dry Piece of Paradise.” The song of soughing pines was my last impression of the evening and the first of the next morning.

Where the Arizona trail crosses, Pine Creek flows at 4,600 foot elevation through a canyon of broadly sloping sides. The flow originates at the foot of Mound Mountain to the southwest, at 6,253 feet the highest elevation in the Superstitions. There are 5,500 foot peaks to the east and west. The land falls away to the north giving great views of the Four Peaks Wilderness.

I chose a flat site to camp above the creek among Arizona White Oak, Arizona Sycamore, Ponderosa Pine and Manzanita. Of these, it’s Manzanita fruit for which the bears come in the summer. Manzanita thickets made approach to the camp site difficult from all directions but the path. Bear sign was thick among this growth. Go to my chapter, “Racing the Sun,” to see the red barked Manzanita and pink blossoms from which grow tiny green fruits that ripen summertime into a bright red, like tiny apples. Indians used this bland tasting fruit containing five hard seeds for food and a cider beverage.

Well before dawn I grabbed warm clothes, hat, camera to head out for a full day of leisure.

On a shallow rise above Pine Creek I took the two shots of agave (Century Plant) stalks in dawn light. These start the chapter, “A Dry Piece of Paradise.” One dry agave flower is to the left in this North view, looking down the creek not far from the creek crossing.

Click any photograph for a larger view
North View from Pine Creek, early morning

In the photograph notice how the canyon narrows as the creek flows north, the walls rising above it for hundreds of feet.

When I climbed about 200 feet above the creek to a ledge that provided great views, the protective canyon walls fell away and wind gusts threatened to up end the light tripod. It was necessary to anchor it with the daypack and I tied down my hat as well.

Shadows of night lie below, dominated by Four Peaks Wilderness. A unique long flat ridge is behind the near dramatic ridge above Pine Creek. This view leads me to daydreams. The long ridge is clearly visible in two photographs titled “Nameless Canyon in the Dawn” and “Nameless Canyon Morning” of my post “A Dry Piece of Paradise.”  A view from the west is available in my post “Racing the Sun.” Look at the photograph captioned, “Overview of my path to the Nameless Canyon behind Two Bar Mountain,” the flat ridge is just above the shadow of Castle Dome. The view from that spot must be incredible across the lower Reavis Creek valley. From here it is a day trip 4+ mile roundtrip bushwhack over the cliffs above Pine Creek.

North View from Pine Creek

Those evergreens in the following photograph are Oneseed Juniper (“Shagbark Juniper”) of the three species common to the Superstitions, this has this spherical, bushy appearance. Here the elevation is just high enough for junipers because there are none down below. The trail crosses Pine Creek to ascend the lower slopes of these red cliffs, following it around to the west and over to the next valley, Reavis Ranch, a distance of 3.5 miles. In my “Two Meetings” blog is a sweeping view of Pine Creek Canyon, from the southern approach.

For most people a 400+ foot climb over these steep cliffs is impossible. Fortunately, a saddle to the right of this photograph is a possible route.

Southwest View from the Arizona Trail above Pine Creek

The saddle is 100 feet lower without cliffs. Still, this entrance to remote, fascinating locations is a steep 300+ climb.

A Saddle breaks a line of cliffs

“The Searcher” arrived around this time riding the buckskin gelding and leading a pinto. He saw me and my camera equipment and stopped for a chat. His plan was to follow the trail I came up yesterday to find a rumored camp with good water. The howling wind made conversation difficult. I wondered where his camp of last night was located, since there was no sign of him. Before I could ask, his cowboy hat flew away with a wind gust. He hopped off the gelding, “That’s my best beaver hat.” After a quick brush and tie-down they were off.

Heading back down to the creek, here is a macro of lichen that covered the crumbling surfaces of boulders that littered the slope.

Nature’s Abstract

During the previous night fresh primrose blossoms opened, this one flourishing in the earth of a south facing slope. There is a reddish spent blossom at lower left. The soil here formed over eons by the action of the creek water, atmosphere and plant life. I have more about the Primrose and these yellow flowers in the background in my “Two Meetings” blog.

Pine Creek of the remote eastern Superstition Wilderness hosts this wild Tufted Evening Primrose.

Turn left (up stream) where the Arizona Trail crosses Pine Creek and jump boulder to boulder for a hundred feet or so and you come to this view. The creek bank, covered by vegetation, rises on both sides and makes it difficult to leave the creek. Those are Arizona White Oak leaves floating along the large foreground boulder.

Pine Creek Pool with Young Arizona Sycamores

This is a very young Arizona White Oak, common species growing along the creek. The leaves are not what you’d expect from an oak, being 2 – 3 inches long in the shape of a lance blade and without obvious lobes Mature Arizona White Oak has a rough bark and, at most, 24 inch trunks.

Arizona White Oak

There are better examples of grand Arizona Sycamores along the perennial Reavis Creek. Pine Creek does not flow in the driest seasons, this tree sloughed its branches in order to survive. You can see from the many young Sycamores in the Pine Creek Pool photograph the previous photo the sycamores are successful in this environment.

I spent some time with this Sycamore, capturing abstract patters of the bark.

The abundance of Ponderosa Pines here demonstrate the species thrives at this altitude and dry environment. This specimen grows on the creek bank. Those are shrubby Arizona Oaks around the trunk.

Abstract patterns in the bark of this Ponderosa. The popular and scientific name (Pinus ponderosa) for this species is from the dense weight of the wood.

The tree is over 100 feet tall. I patched together four shots for this view.

In the afternoon I explored the Arizona Trail to Reavis Ranch. It crosses the creek to ascend the cliff in broad switchbacks. Eventually it follows a contour below a cliff with fine views of Pine Creek Canyon. I turned back to leave the hike to Reavis Ranch for another day.

Click me to visit Michael Stephen Wills Online Arizona Gallery.

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Two Meetings

First view of Pine Creek

Continued from the chapter “A Dry Piece of Paradise.”

Imagine a bowl with steep sides, rough and sharp in places.

Look along the bottom and see a silver stream, sparkling and singing through rocks.

A figure is clinging to the upper side, almost to the rim.

The figure is me in the setting of my blog, “A Dry Piece of Paradise”. Here is my view from that spot.

View from the rim of Nameless Canyon

Hiking along this bowl rim I came to a clearing in the juniper and Manzanita bushes, with a fire ring and pile of roughly broken wood with outstanding views on all sides. This tradition of leaving wood is a welcome intrusion of human kindness and sympathy in this wilderness. We gather wood for total strangers, people we will never meet, to potentially save them in a rainy, cold darkness.

At noon Pine Creek was two miles ahead as I looked into a steep descent, a wide canyon and open range of low oaks, almost shrubs, and small juniper trees. Later, well along the trail, I stepped over Walnut Spring, a silent thread of water through a thin blaze of trees, yellow flowers and continued toward Reavis Gap and Pine Creek on Oregon Ed’s recommendation.

Even a blind man could find water there this year,” Ed claimed.

Ed’s van was parked at the Superstition Wilderness Tule trailhead when my sister dropped me off the morning before. She noted the van thickly coated with dust over grey primer with an Oregon license plate and changed her plan to accompany me the first mile or so for fear the van’s owner was lurking inside.
It was just as well Diane stayed behind because I met Ed two miles up the trail that first day. From the start, Ed was too outgoing and his pack more empty than light. He chatted me up on how “blue my shirt was”, seen from above, about his trips from Oregon to Arizona a few times a year, about his claim to be returning from a five day round trip to Tortilla Flats.

Ed’s good news about how the usual springs were flowing was welcome. Then, Ed expected me to give him some water for this information. This expectation of his was irrational, given his reports of good water sources. Plus, Ed was only a few miles from his van showed no physical signs of needing water.
I was to discover, a few hours in the direction he claimed to have walked, a flowing stream.

Ed’s attitude changed upon his spotting my .45 in a tactical holster strapped to my leg. Thirty seconds later he was heading down the trail. I had no water to spare and was relieved I didn’t need to escort Diane back to her car. Maybe Ed was an anti-gun advocate, but my conclusion was he had some lurking to do, back at the van.

While planning this trip I imagined “Reavis Gap” to be a narrow trail between towering peaks. While walking under the water heavy pack I elaborated on this expectation, but coming on the gap I walked through and into the reality of this photograph, taken from a point looking over the gap and down into Two Bar trail. This was the site of my first meeting with “The Searcher.”

North from Reavis Gap

“The Gap” itself is a high, narrow ridge over a 7,000 foot high valley with peaks, ridges and the occasional hoodoo. That rock formation in the mid-distance includes a hoodoo. It was this hoodoo that introduced me to the gap, being what I saw first high above in the distance from Walnut Spring, a silent thread of water through a thin blaze of cottonwood trees and yellow flowers.

Here’s a link to a video I did of a vast field of Wild Oats which covered Reavis Gap that season.

I first saw the “The Searcher” on that high, narrow ridge above Two Bar trail. I guessed he was a mounted park ranger; from the wide brimmed hat he was holding and the loose fitting shirt. From a half mile away his golden brown mount was standing steady, apparently at rest. Walking up that long, moderate grade my feet hurt and the 70+ pound pack, heavy with water, was chafing. Eager to climb the steep ridge ahead, between me and Pine Creek, I passed the signpost marking the juncture of Two Bar and Reavis Ranch trails and headed up that rocky ridge.

The clatter of horse hooves came up behind much sooner than expected. Turning, I came upon the unexpected site of two horses. The mounted stranger was not a park ranger, but a well dressed cowboy on a western saddle, riding a buckskin gelding.

Behind them, on a lead, was a brown and white pinto loaded with panniers.

I was polite and climbed up on the rocks, off the path, to let them by.

Here’s a photograph of these horses, taken a few days later.
“Colorado and Nugget, grazing at Reavis Ranch”

Enjoying the lush grass of the Reavis Ranch apple orchard, Colorado and Nugget graze.

Our chat was brief, but practical and meaningful: where we came from and conditions along the way. The stranger, who I came to call “The Searcher”, inquired about conditions in the very steep bowl behind Two Bar Mountain. He planned to camp overnight and do a Two Bar Mountain daytrip the next day, but would not if the trail was washed out by that spring’s heavy rains.

I replied the trail was obliterated in spots and even though I could pass his horses might not get by. His reply, “If you got up, so can they.” And with that he gave the buckskin a nudge and they were soon out of sight, over the ridge.

Fifteen minutes later this was my view of Pine Creek, a valley of steep sides sloping to a stream of cool water with mountains and sheer cliffs on all sides. Part of The Arizona Trail.

From a vantage point overlooking Reavis Gap tot he north. This is the view of Pine Creek, to the south.

Just before reaching Pine Creek I passed a southeast facing bank sheltering a garden of tufted evening primrose and a member of the crassulaceae family both in flower. The white flower is the primrose and the yellow the crassulaceae. I was so moved by the beauty of this patch, after trekking for seven hours through endless rocks, cactus, juniper and oak, I unloaded my pack and captured this shot. As the name suggests, the flower is an evening bloom that wilts in the day’s heat. That’s why the flower is a bit floppy in this late afternoon photograph.

Note flower b

The crassulaceae is a succulent, similar to a kalanchoe, with tiny flowers composed of tiny yellow balls.

In future chapters you’ll see more of Pine Creek, visit the wilderness apple orchard at Reavis Ranch, learn more about The Searcher and an ancient, circular, rock wall on a peak overlooking Reavis Gap.

Here is a gallery of photographs from this post for you to flip through. Enjoy!!

Click me for the first post of this series “Racing the Sun.”
Click me for the next post of this series, “A Peaceful Day at Pine Creek.”

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

At Home with Tom and Hen Turkey

Thanksgiving Freedom

The Catskill Mountains are not mountains. The Catskills started as a high plateau. Over eons, before the first humans, water, the sun, and wind carved high steep peaks: rounded, forested and teeming with life.
 
October 2008, on a return trip from my Mother’s house on Long Island, we traveled the winding road called “Route 17”, through the high autumn hillsides, one of our last trips to see her.  She broke her hip on New Year’s and lived with me and my sisters until her 2013 passing. 
Click Any Photograph for my Online Fine Art Gallery 

Route 17_FishsEddy_throughTheWindshield– CLICK ME!!!!

Fishs Eddy

We left Long Island early afternoon, as the sun passed over the western hills we stopped to explore a place called “Fishs Eddy”, a town on the banks of the Delaware River.

Delaware River at Fishes Eddy– CLICK ME!!!!

 
On the east side, facing sunset is a formation that would be a cliff if it was not for the hardwood trees growing from every available nook, crevice.  Everywhere a root could be sunk, roots fed trees that, one late October afternoon, made a hill bright with autumn.

Turkey Habitat

Turkeys live in this type of habitat. We took a trail, barely a road that climbed past failed farms and hunting shacks.

Catskill Hillside– CLICK ME!!!!

The Hens Flee

On a level place, in front of a ruined home, we came upon a Tom (male) turkey and his four hens. The hens fled at the sight of us.
 
With barely time to raise the camera I caught Tom and the last hen as she fled into the bushes.

Tom and Hen Turkey Flee the Scene– CLICK ME!!!!

Tom Turkey Defiant

I say she, because Tom stayed behind. He stood erect, all three feet of him, defiant and strutting in a direction opposite from the hens.

 

This is the bird Benjamin Franklin proposed as the national emblem of the new United State of America (the bald eagle won that competition).
Hunted into almost oblivion, across the United States the wild turkey is making a dramatic come back in many places, including the forests and farmland of rural New York State.

A Defiant Tom Turkey– CLICK ME!!!!

This fellow made no noise. His strutting posture and head bobbing said it all.
We left Tom Turkey in peace to his domain and hens.

Tom Turkey Stalks the Ruin– CLICK ME!!!!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, my friends.
Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

 

Views of the Valley, Glendalough

A dramatic natural setting

Looking out over the Valley of the Two Lakes from the Glendalough Monastic City.

One of the lakes for which the valley is named, above the headstones in the mid-distance

Look closely at the carved scroll at the foot of the cross.

Click any photograph to view my Fine Art galleries

Memorial from a mother to her 6 year old son and husband

The site is within a semi-natural oak woodland.

Valley walls are dramatic and steep

For more background of this site, see my posting “The Cloigheach of Glendalough.”

Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Fall Creek Winter

The magic of ice, water, light

This January 2005 morning dawned cold, the risen sun low to the south of a forested esker ridge, as I suited up for this long planned for photograph.  A Sony DSC-F828, a UV filter and tripod were all I needed to capture this.  That camera model has a integrated flex lens.  I needed to stabilize the lens to achieve this image clarity, depth and sharpness.

The shimmering gloss was achieved by waiting until the sun was above the ridge, shining light shafts through the trees, lighting the water obliquely.

As late as January the stream carries enough heat to create a fog or mist as the air chills after sunset.  This causes twigs to frost up to create those white stick figures on the far bank.  Snowfall from the previous day clings to trees.

Fall Creek freezes from the bottom up.  First the water smoothed boulders accumulate a glaucous ice coat.  Slowly moving water freezes from the edges, in stages, the middle stage an ornate filagree.  The stream narrows downstream where the surface ice first joins.  As the year progresses through February the creek gradually recedes under the ice, replaced by an ice road.

What is an esker ridge?  As the last glaciers melted 10,000+ years ago, the channels carrying meltwater and sediment, under the glaciers, deposited these winding ridged hills.  One of the outcomes was the channel of Fall Creek was altered to flow through the field of eskers among which, in the 19th century, a dam and water mill were created.  It made barrels and furniture.  My former home, in this photograph, was converted from the workshop of that mill.

Click this link to learn MORE about my Award-Winning photograph and misadventures of that day. 

Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

A Visit with Tom and Hen Turkey

A Catskills Adventure

The Catskill Mountains are not mountains. The Catskills started as a high plateau. Over eons, before the first humans, water, the sun, and wind carved high steep peaks: rounded, forested and teeming with life.

October 2008, on a return trip from family on Long Island, we traveled the winding road called “Route 17”, through the high autumn hillsides.

Route 17_FishsEddy_throughTheWindshield– CLICK ME!!!!

Click me for more Autumn Magic from my Online Gallery

Fishs Eddy

As the sun passed over the western hills we stopped to explore a place called “Fishs Eddy”, a town on the banks of the Delaware River.

Delaware River at Fishes Eddy– CLICK ME!!!!


On the east side, facing sunset is a formation that would be a cliff if it was not for the hardwood trees growing from every available nook, crevice.  Everywhere a root could be sunk, roots fed trees that, one late October afternoon, made a hill bright with autumn.

Turkey Habitat

Turkeys live in this type of habitat. We took a trail, barely a road that climbed past failed farms and hunting shacks.

Catskill Hillside– CLICK ME!!!!

 

Click me for more Autumn Magic from my Online Gallery

 

The Hens Flee

On a level place, in front of a ruined home, we came upon a Tom (male) turkey and his four hens. The hens fled at the sight of us.
 
With barely time to raise the camera I caught Tom and the last hen as she fled into the bushes.

Tom and Hen Turkey Flee the Scene– CLICK ME!!!!

Tom Turkey Defiant

I say she, because Tom stayed behind. He stood erect, all three feet of him, defiant and strutting in a direction opposite from the hens.

This is the bird Benjamin Franklin proposed as the national emblem of the new United State of America (the bald eagle won that competition).
Hunted into almost oblivion, across the United States the wild turkey is making a dramatic come back in many places, including the forests and farmland of rural New York State.

A Defiant Tom Turkey– CLICK ME!!!!

This fellow made no noise. His strutting posture and head bobbing said it all.
We left Tom Turkey in peace to his domain and hens.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, my friends.

Tom Turkey Stalks the Ruin– CLICK ME!!!!

A Dry Piece of Paradise

A hellish shriek assaulted the cold 3 am darkness.

A hellish shriek assaulted the cold 3 am darkness.

The scream was instantly recognizable. Anything but terrified, after a confused scramble I reinserted the pin into a personal security device hung from my backpack. Wrapped in a silly waffle weave blanket, tossing restless in the cold, the pin lanyard hung up then pulled free. Several minutes had passed with that sound flowing out over the canyon, calling all carnivores to breakfast.

I had drifted off with the wind shaking my tent like a drunken prankster and now all was totally and absolutely quiet. In spite of the cold, the inadequate blanket and the imaginary creatures looking for the source of that scream, the next two hours sped by in a fitful doze.

Agave Heart

At 5 am I crawled out to find the thinnest crescent moon imaginable gracing the eastern sky, kept company by a century plant silhouetted against the early dawn light.

Click any photograph for a higher resolution image.
Century Plant Dawn
Century Plant Dawn

Click this link to see my photograph “Superstition Spring”

These stalks raise the golden flowers of this agave 10 to 15 feet above the green prickly rosette. Century plant stalks can be seen throughout the Superstitions, even at the high elevations among towering Ponderosa Pine.

Here is an agave in predawn light I caught on the next day, in Pine Creek canyon.

Agave
Agave in PreDawn Light

The leaves are used as needle and thread with the very sharp tip as the needle and the long leaf fibers, when properly dried and shredded, as thread. These leaves guard the agave heart from the harvest. A poke from an agave spike can be deep and painful.

The young shoots of the stalks are a succulent delicious treat raw. Roasted, the agave heart is a fresh, somewhat sweet delight. The earliest residents of this desert left numerous roasting pits on the mountain slopes, located where the agave still grows.

Dawn and the Pretty Hedgehogs

Although cold, the still dry air felt marvelous and even distant objects appeared absolutely clear. In this environment the spread of sun with its rising is a ritual. Here’s a photograph of the canyon walls a few minutes before the sun reached them.

SlopesOf2BarMountainPreDawn
Slopes of Two Bar Mountain in PreDawn Light

And, a few minutes later, as the sun passed the ridges of Two Bar Mountain.…

SlopesOfTwoBarMtnAtDawn
Dawn on the Slopes of Two Bar Mountain

By the way, that’s a desiccated agave stalk to the lower right, on the rocks.

At my feet, spread at intervals on the brown red broken rock, small Hedgehog cacti bloomed lavender.

Lavender Hedgehog, overview
Lavender Hedgehog Blossoms
Lavender Hedgehog Blossoms
Lavender Hedgehog Blossoms
Lavender Hedgehog Blossoms
Lavender Hedgehog Blossoms with Buds

Cacti, such as the blossoming lavender Hedgehog seen above, require a space which enjoys full sunlight for most of the day. The thick grown of juniper trees limited sunlight and compete with the cacti for water. This image will give you an idea of the extent of the juniper growth.

Nameless Canyon in the Dawn
Nameless Canyon in the Dawn

Looking into Nameless Canyon

In the above photograph you are looking west over a canyon that is unnamed on maps. The dramatic flat ridge bathed in light is a landmark marking the canyon of Reavis Falls, on the far side in this view. Make your way down the canyon where is joins Reavis Creek, turn left and the falls are a few miles upstream. This is NOT the easiest path to the falls.

As the sun rose I needed to prepare for the day’s trekking, but took one more portrait of this lovely nameless canyon traversed by an almost non-existent path.

Nameless Canyon Morning
Nameless Canyon Morning

This season, a cold stream ran at canyon bottom. Flowing among the rocks the water produced peals of a crystal bell, but this was not my last memory of this place.

In the “Nameless Canyon Morning” image, on the left there is the almost vertical (no exaggeration) canyon wall I climbed in 4.5 hours that morning. It traversed 800 feet altitude in less than a mile. The path was substantially longer because it followed the contour lines of the land in long loops called switchbacks. As I proceeded up the canyon wall, to the southeast, above the opposite canyon wall, the memorable Four Peaks gradually appeared. Here’s the view from my lunchtime perch…..

Four Peaks from Nameless Canyon
Four Peaks from Nameless Canyon

This view looks over the basin of Reavis Creek and includes the, out of sight, 140 foot high Reavis Fall, the highest free fall in Arizona.

Click link for the first chapter of this Superstition Wilderness Adventure, “Racing the Sun.”
Click me for the next chapter of this Adventure, “Two Meetings”
Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved